Michael Parkinson puts a finger to his brow

Most iconic – and most controversial – Michael Parkinson interviews following death of beloved broadcaster

TV chats will be remembered for years to come

Following the announcement of Sir Michael Parkinson‘s death aged 88, ED! remembers his most iconic – and most controversial – interviews from his long-running show, Parkinson.

Parky’s TV career saw him interview many of the time’s highest-profile figures and personalities across several decades.

His BBC talk show aired for more than a decade on the BBC from 1971, pulling in millions of viewers. A later run from 1998 until 2007 also saw the series broadcast on ITV.

Parky announced his retirement from his chat show ahead of the final series airing. And even though 16 years have passed since, his TV chats will be remembered for many more years to come.

Michael Parkinson smiles
RIP Sir Michael Parkinson (Credit: Splashnews.com)

Michael Parkinson and Muhammad Ali

Parky once estimated he’d probably interviewed more than 2,000 celebrities. But Muhammad Ali, one of the most remarkable athletes in history, was one in a billion.

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Parky interviewed the legendary boxer four times, quipping he lost on every occasion.

He later reflected: “When people ask me who I most enjoyed interviewing, I’m unable to give them an answer. When they ask me who the most remarkable man is I’ve ever met, I answer without hesitation: Muhammad Ali.”

Michael Parkinson and Billy Connolly

Another star forever associated with Parky, comic Billy Connolly enjoyed his first taste of national exposure with Michael.

He would go on to guest 15 times, a record for the various iterations of Parkinson.

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Included above is Billy’s final telly chat with Parky.

But his first showing was one that also lived long in the memory, after he shared a gag about a man who murdered his wife and buried her bottom-up so he’d have somewhere to park his bike.

Michael Parkinson with Rod Hull and Emu

“Why is it so aggressive?” Parky enquired of 1970s and 1980s TV’s favourite arm length-sized bird pal of Rod Hull.

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He soon found out. And has been replayed in a million clip shows since, and will be in perpetuity.

Michael Parkinson interviews Kenneth Williams

The Carry On star was another regular on Parkinson. And while Kenneth was rhapsodic about many subjects beyond the British comedy series that brought him household fame, his most memorable appearance came in 1973 as he debated politics with a union boss.

Kenneth Williams makes his point
Kenneth Williams makes his point (Credit: BBC)

It caused such controversy with BBC higher ups that a ban was laid down on similar discussions taking place on the show in future.

Highlights from five of Kenneth’s eight appearances on Parkinson are available to view on BBC iPlayer.

Michael Parkinson and Les Dawson

As well as Billy Connolly, Parky conducted TV’s most revealing and seminal interviews with a host of different comics. That included the likes of Les Dawson, whose interviews were more than chats, but opportunities to put on routines, too.

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Not only did Parky provide a platform for some of the best jokes cracked on Saturday night TV, he also gave performers so much space to speak that they often revealed much more of the person behind the act that they would anywhere else.

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Other unforgettable Parkinson guests from comedy included Dame Edna Everage, Robin Williams, Bob Monkhouse, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, and Peter Sellers.

Michael Parkinson interviews Helen Mirren

Michael came under fire for his interview with Helen Mirren in 1975 as he made comments about her appearance.

Referring to her as a “sex queen”, he asked whether her breasts distracted audience members from her performance.

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Helen labelled him a “sexist old fart” – and later complained criticism concerning the interview turned on her.

“I don’t want to diss Michael, but he did blow it that once. He didn’t know any different,” she later reasoned.

The unfortunate line of questioning came up again when Helen returned for another interview in 2007.

Michael Parkinson and Meg Ryan

Another moment to forget came in October 2003, as Parky tried to have a conversation with US actress Meg Ryan. He subsequently described their awkward exchange as his most difficult moment on TV.

Meg was perceived to be aloof as she ignored the other guests and replied to questions with single word answers.

She came off as bored and not wanting to be in the studio. But despite Parky’s attempts to coax some effort out of her, Meg didn’t seem to be interested.

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Declaring she was weary of being interviewed, Michael then enquired what she would do if she was doing the interview.

“I’d just wrap it up,” she replied – and so he did.

Three years later, she reportedly slammed the host as a “nut”. And he hit back by suggesting she was “the most boring bore I’ve ever met”.

Michael told The Mirror in April 2006: “That’s her opinion. She’s welcome to it. I’m delighted – to be called a nut by her is a compliment.”

Michael Parkinson and Madonna

Going by this list, Michael’s hit rate with female guests might be questioned. However, any suggestion of that is countered by his 2005 interview with Madonna, hailed as one of the very best both have ever been a part of.

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He also admitted Madonna had been on his ‘must interview’ list for 20 years.

When Madonna did appear, Michael praised her as “absolutely brilliant”.

Michael Parkinson and George Michael

Singing legend George Michael popped up on Parky in 1998 shortly after his arrest for public lewdness in Los Angeles.

In an hour-long chat, which also featured musical performances, George reflected on being outed.

He said: “The arrest happened within about a week of what I felt was the end of my intense grieving period for my mother. So I’d come out of about five months of terrible depression, depression that where I was afraid for the first time, that I was really scarred by the things that had happened to me.”

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However, George also explained his resilience after being “humiliated as hell”.

He went on: “After about a day, a day and a half, I could – almost immediately, actually, I saw the funny side of it. If you can’t laugh when everyone else is laughing then you’re in trouble. And God knows, everyone else was laughing.”

Michael Parkinson speaks with Victoria Beckham, David Beckham, Richard Burton

Victoria Beckham once revealed to Parky how she had the nickname ‘Goldenballs’ for her fella David Beckham.

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But a couple of decades before, Parky was part of a masterclass in conversation with one half of another iconic celebrity couple.

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Richard Burton reflected on his turbulent but dazzling career, his equally turbulent but dazzling love life, and drinking in a slow-burning interview that didn’t even touch on whether he wore his wife’s underwear. All while constantly chain-smoking.

Read more: Sir Michael Parkinson dies aged 88 as fans pay tribute to TV legend

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Robert Leigh
Freelance writer